Tag: COVID-19

Victoria plan to start welcoming international students by 2021 end


By SAT News Desk

MELBOURNE, 8 October 2021: International students will start returning to Victoria by the end of the year under the Victorian Government’s Student Arrivals Plan, which has been submitted to the Commonwealth for approval.

The Plan provides a graduated, safe return to study in Victoria for international students, and a pipeline for continued arrivals through 2022.

Students arriving under the plan will be in addition to Victoria’s existing international arrivals cap, which means they will not displace returning Australians.

Minister for Trade Martin Pakula says, “This sensible plan will progressively get students who are enrolled at Victorian universities, TAFEs and colleges safely into Victoria so they can undertake their studies.”

“A gradual return of international students means we can keep Victorians safe and not affect places for returning Australians.”

Under the first stage of the plan, 120 places will be available each week for Victorian university students, prioritising those who need to undertake practical work to continue or complete their degrees, such as health and medical degree students, as well as postgraduate research students.

Universities will provide funding towards the extra quarantine places for student visa holders, with students required to cover the cost of their flight to Melbourne. Students will be quarantined in dedicated accommodation managed by COVID-19 Quarantine Victoria.

The second stage will enable more places with larger-scale international student arrivals from across the sector, including those enrolled in TAFEs, English-language courses, private education providers and secondary schools.

Vice-Chancellor of the University of Melbourne Professor Duncan Maskell says, “Victorian universities have been working collaboratively with the Victorian Government on a plan to facilitate the
return of international students to the state.”

“We are pleased the plan has now been submitted to the Federal Government – we look forward to Minister Tudge reviewing and approving the plan as soon as possible.”

International students are a vital part of Victoria’s academic and broader community. While over 75,000 international students from 100 countries are currently studying in Victoria, around 47,000 more are enrolled with Victorian education providers but remain offshore while Australia’s international borders are closed.

International education is a critical services export and jobs provider for Victoria, contributing a peak of $13.7 billion to the state’s economy and supporting around 79,000 Victorian jobs prior to the pandemic.

Australian unions counter Vaccine hesitancy (Read Q-A)

Photo- Megaphone Journal

By SAT News Desk

MELBOURNE, 28 September 2021: Many people are hesitant to take the Covid-19 vaccines. Some even have demonstrated in different Australian cities against vaccines and lockdowns. There is a lot of misinformation about the pandemic and the vaccines. There are many questions that need to be answered. To fulfill this need, Australian unions led by the Victorian Trades House Council has in its latest newsletter ‘Megaphone Journal’ (Sept 27, 2021), sets the ball rolling in a Q-A format.

Here are the Questions and Answers:

Your Top Questions About Vaccines – Answered!

Q- Is it safe?
A- Yes. All the vaccines available in Australia have been provisionally approved by the Therapeutic Goods Administration (TGA), which means that the TGA is satisfied that the benefits of the medicine outweigh any risk.
Worldwide, over 5.95 billion people have received a Covid-19 vaccination.

Q- What about side-effects?
A- The vast majority of people who get the vaccine will only experience flu-like side-effects for a day or two.
You may have heard about some blood clotting side-effects from the Astra-Zeneca vaccine – so let’s break down the risk here.
Your chance of developing the blood clotting side effect from Astra-Zeneca is about 3.4 in 100,000 if you’re under 50 years old (and even less if you’re over 50).
So we’re talking about a side effect that might affect 3 people – non fatally – in this crowd of 100,000.


If these 100,000 people get vaccinated with Astra Zeneca, 3 of them will be affected by the blood clotting side effect. (Image from Visualising Crowd Sizes)

That’s a pretty small risk. And it’s very much a preferable risk to the risk you’re taking by not getting vaccinated.

If you choose not to get vaccinated, you face a much higher risk of catching Covid-19 – you’re about 5 times more likely to be infected than a vaccinated person.

An unvaccinated person is about 10 times more likely to be hospitalised because of Covid-19.

And an unvaccinated person is about 11 times more likely to die of Covid-19.

That’s why your union recommends you get vaccinated as soon as possible, with whatever vaccine is available to you.

Q- Can I catch Covid from the vaccine?

A- No. There are no live virus particles in any vaccine available in Australia. While you might feel minor, temporary side effects from the injection, it is impossible to contract the virus from the vaccine.

Will it affect my natural immune response?
Yes – for the better!

The vaccines available for Covid-19 teach your body’s immune system how to quickly recognise Covid-19 and fight it effectively.

Australian research has revealed that the vaccine offers a much broader protection against COVID-19 and its variants than the body’s natural immune response following infection. That is, a vaccinated person’s immune system is better prepared to fight Covid variants than the immune system of a person who previously had Covid.

Getting vaccinated trains your body to fight the virus naturally – so that you don’t end up trying to fight it in hospital.

Q- Does the vaccine change my DNA?

This is a common claim floating around the internet. It is possible that people have been confused between DNA and mRNA.

The Pfizer vaccine uses a fragment of messenger RNA (mRNA) to teach your immune system how to fight covid.

The mRNA never even comes into contact with your DNA, and cannot affect your DNA in any way. Instead, COVID-19 mRNA vaccines teach the cell how to make a protein that triggers an immune response specific to COVID-19. The vaccines work with the body’s natural defences to develop immunity to disease.

Q- How did it get produced so quickly?
The reason the vaccines have been able to be developed and manufactured so quickly is that, for a change, there was sufficient money poured into the process. Which makes you wonder – how many health problems could we solve if billionaires paid tax instead of flying to space?

Researchers around the world have been working hard to develop COVID-19 vaccines from the earliest stages of the pandemic.

Because of the threat posed by Covid to people around the world, vaccine developers, governments and researchers collaborated more closely than ever before. Clinical trials progressed more quickly because Covid-19 was so widespread that differences between vaccinated and unvaccinated groups could be detected sooner.

In Australia, the vaccines have been provisionally approved by the Therapeutic Goods Administration. The provisional approval pathway is a process that allows for temporary registration of promising new medicines and vaccines where the need for early access outweighs the risks.

The Astra-Zeneca, Pfizer, and Moderna vaccines are all provisionally approved by the TGA, which means that the TGA is satisfied that the benefit of the medicine outweighs any risk.

Clinical trials are ongoing with the vaccines, and are comprehensively reviewed regularly.

Q- Why can’t I make up my own mind?
You can! But choosing not to be vaccinated may have consequences for how you can interact with other people.

Choosing not to get vaccinated puts you and the people around you at greater risk of Covid infection. For that reason, people who choose not to be vaccinated present a risk in certain occupations. You can choose not to be vaccinated – but you cannot choose to put your workplace at risk.

As directed by the Chief Health Officer, some occupations may require proof of vaccination before you can return to work. If you work in an industry or occupation where vaccination is a work requirement, you will need to be vaccinated before you return to your normal worksite.

Be advised that vaccination status is not a protected attribute under anti-discrimination law. If you decide not to get vaccinated, you may need assistance from your union. Your union strongly encourages you to get vaccinated as soon as you can, to protect yourself and your fellow workers.

Q- What’s in it?
A- Eating a cake is not the same as eating a spoon of flour, then a spoon of sugar, then a spoon of egg etc. Just like a cake, a vaccine is more than the sum of its ingredients.

A great breakdown of all the ingredients of various vaccines can be found on the Queensland Health website.

Pfizer and Moderna vaccines are made from mRNA (a set of instructions about the genetic material of the virus), lipids (fats, oils and waxes), salts, sugar, amino acids (Moderna only) and water.

AstraZeneca contains a modified cold virus (adenovirus), emulsifiers, preservatives, amino acids, sugar, salt and water.

If you receive a lolly pop with your vaccination, that contains sugar, corn syrup, water, food colouring, acidity regulators, flavour, and a plastic stick.

Q- People are still getting the virus, even when they’re vaccinated. So why should I get vaccinated?
A- A small proportion of fully vaccinated people may still be infected with Covid-19, but will most likely experience less severe symptoms.

Importantly, getting the vaccine means you are much less likely to end up in hospital, which means our hospital workers have capacity to look after other people who need their help.

Even if you have been vaccinated, it is important to maintain Covid-safe behaviours such as good hand hygiene, social distancing, wearing a mask and checking in via QR code. These behaviours help protect you, and people who have not yet been vaccinated.

Q- I saw something online that was actually quite persuasive…
A- We recommend that if you have any concerns about the vaccine, you should speak to your GP or another trusted medical professional.
A small proportion of fully vaccinated people may still be infected with Covid-19, but will most likely experience less severe symptoms.

Importantly, getting the vaccine means you are much less likely to end up in hospital, which means our hospital workers have capacity to look after other people who need their help.

Even if you have been vaccinated, it is important to maintain Covid-safe behaviours such as good hand hygiene, social distancing, wearing a mask and checking in via QR code. These behaviours help protect you, and people who have not yet been vaccinated.

I saw something online that was actually quite persuasive…
We recommend that if you have any concerns about the vaccine, you should speak to your GP or another trusted medical professional.

Source- journal.megaphone.org

Can poor countries succeed in vaccinating their population?

Photo- jnj.com

Public outcry in South Africa helped force Johnson & Johnson to retain the vaccines produced in the country for domestic use instead of being shipped to Europe. The Indian civil society has initiated a similar effort as the Global South looks for alternatives


By Richa Chintan

Representatives from Indian civil society have written a letter to Johnson & Johnson (J&J) and the President of the United States (US), Joe Biden. They demand that firstly, the J&J vaccine doses for COVID-19 made in India be supplied on priority to the Indian government, the African Union, and the COVAX Facility; secondly, the US has to lift intellectual property barriers and persuade J&J to license its vaccine, including technology and assistance, to manufacturers in other parts of the world.

The letter comes after the South African civil society’s recent success in pressuring J&J to make available the vaccine doses produced within South Africa domestically. In mid-August, the J&J shots bottled and packaged at African pharma company Aspen’s facility were reportedly being shipped over to Europe, which had already vaccinated more than 60% of its population. The huge public outcry eventually forced J&J to retain these doses for use in Africa only.

The vaccine inequality has been glaring and in fact, increasing with each passing day. Despite calls from the World Health Organization (WHO) to both the developed countries and the pharma companies, the supply of vaccines to countries in Africa and Asia has been severely limited. Africa has only about 3.8% of its population fully vaccinated, while the developed countries such as Canada have nearly 70% of their population fully vaccinated.

Monopoly of the Big Pharma and counter efforts

A few players still dominate the COVID-19 vaccine market – the Big Pharma monopolies such as Pfizer, Moderna, J&J and AstraZeneca. These Big Pharma companies and the developed world have colluded and successfully ensured that their profits are safe. They have stalled all efforts to pass the India-South Africa proposal at the World Trade Organization to waive off intellectual property rights such as the patents and trademarks on COVID-19 related vaccines, drugs and therapeutics.

Countries such as Russia and Cuba made parallel efforts at developing COVID-19 vaccines. However, out of the three Russian and five Cuban vaccines, none have gotten the WHO approval. Some countries have given emergency approval to these vaccines. When Big Pharma is focusing on profits, Russia and Cuba have played an exemplary role. Not only have they given vaccines to poorer countries, but they have also shared the technical know-how with and provided scientific support to other manufacturers across the world. China, which has emerged as one of the biggest suppliers to some of the developing countries in Asia, has also been making impressive progress in developing vaccines with around five vaccine candidates. However, China has got approval for only two of its vaccines.

While India, which was considered the pharmacy of the world, had started supplying vaccines to other developing countries under the Vaccine Maitreyi program, it abruptly stopped the exports in May, 2021, leading to a setback in vaccine programmes in these countries. There are indications that the export might resume, but effectively the vaccine production is still deficient, and India has been able to vaccinate only about 15% of its population fully. It is unlikely that the government will be able to reach its avowed target of vaccinating the entire adult population by December 2021. As of September 20, India has recorded nearly 81 crore dosages of vaccinations, only about 36% of the target. As per our calculations, to fully vaccinate all adult populations (of around 94 crores) and including a fraction of vaccine wastage, India would need about 226 crore doses. At the current rate of vaccination, with only three-and-a-half months left, the target seems impossible.

Although the Indian government has been in talks with Moderna and Pfizer, there is uncertainty over any breakthrough. This is because these pharma companies have been pushing for an indemnity clause, which gives them security against any adverse effect of their vaccines resulting in loss or financial stress.

Recently, the Indian Foreign Secretary made a statement that India is “ready to partner with interested countries for the transfer of technology and manufacture of COVID-19 vaccines indigenously developed in India”. However, no concrete initiatives have emerged. In contrast, Russia has shared the technology with at least 34 other manufacturers worldwide, including Brazil and India. So has Cuba. Most recently, Cuba and Vietnam have entered into an agreement that Cuba will be sending Abdala – the Cuban COVID-19 vaccine – and a technology transfer team.

Looking for and creating alternatives

Now pushed to a corner, the developing world is trying to look for and develop alternatives to increase the vaccine supply for its population. Getting J&J to supply the doses being produced in South Africa to be used domestically was one way to secure some doses, but it was not sustainable. Developing countries are trying several ways through which they can overcome the problem of vaccine inequalities.

Producing J&J vaccine through existing capacity
In India, after Covishield and Covaxin, the third vaccine added to the arsenal was Sputnik V, developed by the Russian Direct Investment Fund and global pharma Wockhardt Ltd. The RDIF has shared the technology with 34 manufacturers across the globe, including in India. However, the supply of Sputnik V has been tardy due to technological issues. In producing the two-dose Sputnik V vaccine, the manufacturers have to grow two different adenoviruses – Ad26 for the first dose and Ad5 for the second dose. The process for making the second dose is complex and has encountered glitches, affecting the overall supply of Sputnik V.

Interestingly, J&J’s single-dose vaccine uses the same adenovirus as is used in developing the first dose (Ad26) of the Sputnik V vaccine. The manufacturers, who have developed the production capacity for the Ad26 vector, say that, if allowed, these companies could reorient their processes to produce the J&J vaccine.

African tech transfer hub

In another development, there is reportedly an ongoing effort to develop an African base for COVID-19 vaccine production focusing on replicating Moderna’s vaccine. This is a WHO-sponsored tech transfer hub based in South Africa. The Moderna vaccine was taken up because Moderna had stated that it would not enforce patents related to its vaccine during the pandemic.

Experts point to the fact that such efforts take a lot of time to fructify. Prof. Satyajit Rath, Immunologist at Indian Institute of Science Education and Research (IISER), Pune, says that as the RNA-based vaccine manufacture technology is new, tech transfer help will be needed and the local industry will require hand-holding for setting it up, which might not be forthcoming from Moderna.

Pointing to a major issue involved, he says, “RNA vaccines need ultra-low temperature storage (-70 degree Celsius), and neither Moderna nor BioNTech-Pfizer has so far indicated that their vaccine storage conditions have changed. It is quite unlikely that such a condition can be fulfilled on a large scale of vaccination anywhere in the Global South. So, it is reasonable to wonder why there is such a push to make these vaccines for the Africa hub.”

Some researchers also opine that the vaccine candidates in clinical trials, such as the protein-subunit vaccines, will be easier to license and make in the Global South as many companies are pretty familiar with the process.

The crucial question in such a scenario is which of the vaccine technologies would be easier to implement in the Global South. As Prof. Rath puts it, “This question has a pure tech component and an IP-related component. The DNA vaccine technology, used by Zydus-Cadila, may well be less difficult to transfer in a decentralized fashion to manufacturers in the Global South as it does not depend on an uncertain supply chain of new components (unlike the RNA technologies), or on the somewhat demanding step of tissue culture of human cell lines (unlike the adenoviral technologies), or on the somewhat finicky process of making sure that the ‘shape’ of the vaccine product is quite correct (unlike the protein-based technologies).” The other probable technology, according to Prof. Rath, which can be feasible in this context is the protein-based one, which is traditional and familiar to manufacturers, “and is as easy as the DNA-based one, except for the little worry about protein shape-folding”.

In a recent media briefing, the global pharma companies claimed that even with western countries providing booster shots to their population, nearly 500 million doses would be available for redistribution by September-end from the US, the UK, the European Union, and Canada, among others. While global Big Pharma is fine with such token steps, when it comes to transferring technology, they argue that it requires time to train a workforce to produce new and complex products!

The negotiations on the India-South Africa waiver proposal have been virtually stalled. Most of the Big Pharma companies, which received substantial research and development funding for the development of vaccines, have refused to waive off the patents on COVID-19 vaccines.

In such a scenario, the civil society activists in India legitimately argue that J&J received federal funding of about USD 1 billion from the US government and is thus accountable to it. According to them, “If the US President is indeed serious about vaccinating the world, his administration has the moral, legal, and if necessary, financial power to lift intellectual property barriers and persuade J&J to license its vaccine, with technology and assistance included, to every manufacturer currently engaged in making the Sputnik-V vaccine.”

Given the strong lobby of Big Pharma and the collusion between these and the rich, developed country governments, the journey to increase the vaccination rate in the poorer developing countries remains an arduous task. One only hopes that such continued efforts by civil society activists would help make an impact.

Source- Peoples Dispatch, September 21,

PM pushes for ‘adjust mindset’ to ‘live with the virus’ with 70% & 80 % vaccinated


By Neeraj Nanda

MELBOURNE, 24 August 2021: In his live TV media conference on 23 August, PM Scott Morrison strongly pushed for Australia to gear up for the “live with the virus” National Plan once 70% & 80 % of Australians are vaccinated. The Plan was accepted by the National Cabinet. “There will be risks in it,” he says. But, there are greater risks if the country is not opened up, he pressed. But some states are opposing. He wants the country to “move forward on the plan”:

The Dorthy Institute’s director, Sharon Lewin said, “We need to keep suppressing COVID-19 through public health measures while we work towards 70%-80% vaccination across the country. This will ensure we continue to keep the level of hospitalizations and deaths as low as possible to protect the community and prevent our healthcare system from becoming overrun.” (The Conversation, August 23, 2021).

“We must adjust our mindset. Cases will not be the issue once we get above 70%. Dealing with serious illness, hospitalization, ICU capabilities, our ability to respond in those circumstances, that will be our goal. And we will live with this virus as we live with other infectious diseases. That’s what the national plan is all about,” the PM said at the media conference.

The National Plan means to open up Australia without reaching COVID-zero. Many disagree as they think the current strategies are working. It will also depend on when will the 70% or 80 % vaccination rate will be achieved? Probably, by year end. One has to wait and see.

IFFM-2021 REVIEW: 1232 km – The Long Journey Home (Hindi) : We will die on the way or when we reach home

Screen grab.

By Neeraj Nanda

MELBOURNE, 3 August 2021: For how long maximum have you walked or cycled? Not sure. Anyway, it’s not easy, but possible. Don’t worry, journalist & director Vinod Kapri’s ’1232 km – The long Journey Home’ documentary details how determined humans (yes, humans) can chart their journey against unprecedented hurdles. It’s no joke to make an one hour and 56 minutes documentary on seven migrants who cycle (with a few lifts in trucks) from Loni, Ghaziabad (Uttar Pradesh) to Saharsa (Bihar) with no food and the lurking danger of rough cops.

This journey starts instantly as the determined seven undertake a do-or-die journey to their villages in remote Bihar starting a month after PM N. Modi announced the nationwide lockdown with a four hours notice, rendering them jobless and hungry. In fact, millions of others faced the same fate as India faced the first wave of the COVID-19 pandemic.

The seven days desperate journey of these helpless underprivileged workers by cycle had only one slogan – ” Marange ya to raste main – ya phir ghar ja kar marange” (Either we will die on the way or when we reach home). Some have mobile phones and keep in touch with family in the village.

Screen grab.

All sorts of people emerge on the way. Some help and others refuse fearing the police. Many truck drivers agree to give lifts and dhabawallas (wayside eateries) help them with food. The pandemic also seems to generate humanity and compassion. Villagers and common folk on the way give a helping hand. People help people, not worried about the consequences. Survival creeps in despite the danger of never seeing loved ones. One small error on the road could be disastrous.

The beautiful photography of rural landscapes and simple people interacting with the helpless speaks for itself. A man makes samosas for the riders. The never-ending journey keeps revealing till the seven enter Bihar. It’s joy and relief. They go for quarantine in a depilated school building and uneatable food creates despair. These are hard-working people who earn and eat. Being with families has its reliefs but a much tougher life is in the offing.

Life without work starts. The chains of a decadent exploitative system are deep. If these areas had developed they would not have gone far away from families for work. Vinod Kapri and his team tell us all as they saw it. In a way, it exposes the hollowness of decisions without thinking about the consequences.

Screen grab.

The documentary reveals approximately 30 million laborers migrated during the lockdown (announced in India on March 24, 2020) from different cities between 25th March to 15 June 2020. Media reports, the documentary says, more than 350 laborers lost their lives in different incidents during the lockdown. The Indian government claimed it had no official statistics that could conform laborers’ deaths. Seven months later during the Bihar elections, the migrants’ issue was not an issue.

All the migrants featured in the documentary were forced to return to big cities because of the lack of jobs in Bihar, the documentary says.

So, the system remains alive. For India’s mainstream media the narratives are different from what Vinod Capri brings for us. This human tragedy should not be forgotten is the message. The ’1232 km – The long Journey Home’ team’s historical hard-hitting narrative leaves me numb and shocked.

CAST: Rambabu Pandit, Ashish Kumar, Ritesh Kumar Pandit, Krishna Pandit, Sonu Pandit, Mukesh Kumar, Sandeep Pandit…

DIRECTOR: Vinod Kapri; LYRICS: Gulzar & MUSIC: Vishal Bhardwaj; SINGERS: Sukhwinder Singh & Rekha Bhardwaj; FILM EDITOR: Hemanti Sarkar…

The Documentary can be seen ONLINE at the Indian Film Festival of Melbourne (IFFM) 2021. For info visit – www.iffm.com.au